Church And Kids: 18 Reasons Why Not

Ecclesia de Lange’s experience as a lesbian minister who was fired from the Methodist Church after her engagement announcement will make its way to the Constitutional Court where we will test the relationship between church and state.

But many have argued that churches are voluntary membership associations; as such, they do not have to be constitutional at all points. They can have their own rules. Within reason.

But if that’s so, then shouldn’t people have to be 18 years old before they are allowed to attend church sermons or homilies?

Shouldn’t churches that do admit minors adhere to publicly-known broadcasting and pedagogical standards?

I really would like to know: what has the State put in place to regulate the influence that churches and other religious institutions have over children? I am happy to admit ignorance but if any measures do exist, then their effectiveness must be limited because from what I see and hear, children are still present in church audiences where the sermon material is not entirely suitable for people of all ages.

This is something I have written to the Human Rights Commission about (giving its local office many headaches) – churches’ unmitigated influence over vast portions of society, as well as the absence of any aggressive public push to regulate what children are exposed to in churches.

Are children able to consent to having this influence exerted over their impressionable minds? Dare we believe that their sponge-like minds do not absorb everything they see and hear? Some churches have the good sense to send children off to kid’s church when preaching starts. Some preachers ensure their messages are age-sensitive. But I imagine that many don’t; they simply steamroll through the message with little or no thought about the smaller ears in the audience. The number of churches this happens in might not be great, but I imagine it is significant; we cannot rely on complainants to highlight issues before we take action. We must be pro-active and ask for the upfront regulation of the church’s influence on the public, I believe.

If courts cannot force churches to behave constitutionally, then to whatever degree churches refuse to play along with the Bill of Rights, to that degree sermons, homilies and the like should not be broadcast to minors.

True, nobody should have his freedom of speech, religion or conscience curtailed. But neither should minors suffer any form of harm as a result of another person’s spiritual beliefs. Minors are suffering even if the damage is not apparent.

My Testimony 
When I heard my first anti-gay sermon, my vocabulary and sexual awareness had not advanced to the point that the term “sodomite” should have made sense, or, for that matter, have meant something significant to me. But that does not mean I should have been exposed to an atmosphere where such vitriol could be stirred up and revelled in on account of people’s sexual preferences and choices; that left an impression. And I believe I was one of the lucky ones.

Nothing but rape and other forms of coercive, abusive and otherwise deceitful (but still blatantly hurtful) sexual choices should provoke even a fraction of that sheer congregational outrage or the self-righteous chorus of Amens. Peer pressure, crowd psychology and the impressionability of young minds form an intoxicating cocktail of influences that in turn shape young minds towards prejudices and attitudes they otherwise may not have picked up and clung to.

Nobody should be in a position to instil the idea in a young mind that to fit in with those who “know best” and hold the power to include and exclude, he has to absorb and perpetuate the same prejudices. But many are in such positions, and worshiped and admired as they are, they and their teachings are beyond question, beyond reproach.

So while I applaud the Constitution for protecting adults’ right to believe whatever they want and sign up for whatever private clubs they want to sign up for, eating and drinking snakes, rats petrol and fire as they wish, I have to ask: who is protecting the children from the adults’ choices? Are kids driven out when “exorcisms” (otherwise known as beat-downs) are conducted? My mother told me about one in Umlazi J section, I think it was, where the exorcist managed to pull out a child’s entrails in a bid to cast out demons. It may be an anecdotal account, but it is still indicative of a disturbing trend. There is a real danger here; I see striking parallels with ritual circumcision but that is a whole other can of, er, worms.

Real or not, the child in this instance died. But do these preachers even say, “Kids, don’t try this at home!” before doing the holy work of God? Or do they rely on the Holy Ghost to clean up after them?

Hellfire And Brimstone Sermons Are Not Suitable For Young And Sensitive Audiences

Does there exist a being with the power to send vast numbers of people to an everlasting hell? Perhaps. Probably. But there is no good reason to introduce the imagery of it to young, fertile imaginations.

The doctrine of hell is mentally violent. It is intended to scare people into obedience, and often it accomplishes that goal. But more so than adults, children’s understanding of personhood is limited. The idea that some people should be cast into hell can undermine the foundation of the understanding of personhood, which, in turn, will undermine children’s ability to grasp the ethos of the Bill of Rights. We do not (or should not) torture criminals. But according to the doctrine of hell, the God of the bible subjects his criminals to everlasting torment. The State images benevolence as non-violence; God, however, vindicates his benevolence by threatening its alternative, and that is supreme, absolute violence. Are children able to cope with this dissonance? I doubt it.

Piousness is not necessarily a constitutional value. Don’t children living in a constitutional democracy have a right to learn more constitutional ideas before being exposed to the idea of hell (or, for that matter, many biblical motifs)? It is traumatising and dehumanising to learn such a potent idea at such a young age, much like being exposed to a no-holds-barred talk about sex when you are just seven years old.

None of this actually has to do with whether these beliefs are true or ethical; the point I am stressing is that there is nothing to be gained from exposing children to these concepts that cannot be gained by other, better-thought through means. The fact that we have not, generally speaking, really discussed alternatives (as members of churches or as citizens of the State or both) is a sign of our collective lethargy when it comes to constitutionalism.

Sexual Orientation And Religious Homophobia   

The Constitutional Court will hear the story of Ecclesia de Lange. But maybe it is an opportunity for us to also discuss children and other vulnerable people in the cross-hairs of religious discrimination. There is nothing to be gained from exposing children to sermons teaching that some kinds of boys, girls, men and women are more deserving of hell because the popular prejudice of the day says so. History tells of great religious trauma over the centuries. This is to say nothing about immersing children in normalised sexism passing itself off as orthodoxy. That is what many children are exposed to, is it not?

My formative years were spent under the fiery preaching of a Charismatic-Pentecostal church whose homophobic head pastor infamously raped a slew of high school boys. Whoever wants to go deal with that kind of twisted, toxic, hypocritical, repressive shit has my blessing and the constitutional right to sign up for it.

But for Christ’s sake – and I do mean for Christ’s sake – suffer the children to be kept out of it: not for such is what masquerades as the kingdom of heaven.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987



White Atheism: The Individual’s Denial Of Invisible Ideas

In the last 24 hours I found myself (once again) in a Facebook post-thread-reply orgy. At one point, a scary-smart straight white guy asked me to define “white privilege” for him “and then apply it to the following rant: 

“What of white-privilege – that fine institution that welcomes other people’s bigoted opinions without violent retaliation (think Islam & Communism), ended slavery (which still exists in Africa and Asia), doesn’t behead or necklace gay people (still happening in Africa), and is the only culture that will censor and admonish its own members publicly ([himself]) – must I pack it up and go somewhere less unappreciative? Or should I stay here and use it to empower as many people as I can influence?”

I offered to derive a definition of white privilege from his rant instead of creating a definition and then applying it to his rant: 

“White privilege is the ability to identify with the actions of the skin-pigment group to which biology assigned you only insofar as it’s convenient, believing that the world will overlook this selective individualism since whiteness (being strongly represented in media and in corporate in its infinite, nuanced human complexity) is the unsuspicious, trusted default. For this reason, white people are often thought of and treated as individuals while everyone else is thought of more often as part of a group. 

 “That privilege, which you wouldn’t see as such because it’s only right that you be treated as an individual, allows you to cherry-pick the best of which your immediate racial compatriots have done in the deceptively recent past, hold that up as representative of whiteness in general, then ask me to apply an alien definition of white privilege that won’t match up to the picture of whiteness that white privilege has allowed you to put up anyway. Then I look like an idiot trying. I might be wrong and it might be due to our own social failing as black people, but from where I stand, most white okes have the luxury of more interior, #DawsonsCreek type struggles, which come with having been afforded more room and education to define and assert your individuality. I envy that.”

I also said,

“What gives you away is the paternalism (which bordered on but didn’t cross over into a patronizing tone) when you ask whether you should ‘pack it up and go somewhere less unappreciative.’ So you admit that you have the option of global mobility, to an extent, and it is by sheer graciousness that you deign to stick around where you are accused of being the bad guy by virtue of your skin, and try to show people that you are an individual white guy who isn’t as bad as some groups of white guys have been. You’re typing this from the United States where a great number of black men have a relationship with the police force that is precisely the opposite of that privilege: they cannot just pack up and go though many probably wish, desperately wish, that they could. Just to feel safe in the black skins that get them accused of being the bad guy.”

 Parts of my response were inspired by American John Metta’s I, Racist, where he explains that 

“Black people think in terms of we because we live in a society where the social and political structures interact with us as Black people. White people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals. You are ‘you,’ I am ‘one of them.’ Whites are often not directly affected by racial oppression even in their own community, so what does not affect them locally has little chance of affecting them regionally or nationally. They have no need, nor often any real desire, to think in terms of a group. They are supported by the system, and so are mostly unaffected by it. What they are affected by are attacks on their own character. To my aunt, the suggestion that ‘people in The North are racist’ is an attack on her as a racist. She is unable to differentiate her participation within a racist system (upwardly mobile, not racially profiled, able to move to White suburbs, etc.) from an accusation that she, individually, is a racist. Without being able to make that differentiation, White people in general decide to vigorously defend their own personal non-racism, or point out that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it.

The result of this is an incessantly repeating argument where a Black person says ‘Racism still exists. It is real,’ and a white person argues ‘You’re wrong, I’m not racist at all. I don’t even see any racism’.”

He also says,

“Even the fact that America has a growing number of violent hate groups, populated mostly by white men, and that nearly all serial killers are white men cannot shadow the fundamental truth of white male goodness. In fact, we like White serial killers so much, we make mini-series about them.”

 He describes black people’s relationship with the system by saying they are “systematically challenged in a thousand small ways that actually made it easier for you to succeed in life.”

“Racism is so deeply embedded in this country not because of the racist right-wing radicals who practice it openly, it exists because of the silence and hurt feelings of liberal America.”

 It is often argued that it is black people who keep racism alive. This argument is often made by people who can afford to individualate from the group they come from, its past, its guilts and its issues. But not its privileges, for it is by those privileges that they afford real estate at a respectable distance from everything negative about the group. 

We all owe a debt to whiteness for inventing (or discovering) the precious but high-maintenance commodity that is the individual in all of his infinite, nuanced complex humanity. When my Facebook friend identifies white privilege as “that fine institution that welcomes other people’s bigoted opinions without violent retaliation….doesn’t behead or necklace gay people (still happening in Africa), and is the only culture that will censor and admonish its own members publicly” and whose individuals have the right to “pack it up and go somewhere less unappreciative” as well as the option to “stay here and use it to empower…many people,” he is admitting that it is whiteness that invented, refined, perfected and redeemed the individual from the mire of historic group guilt and, by extension, individual complicity. 

But what he and many white people cannot admit is that to do so, whiteness required resources, time and sweat, which it took from non-white people-groups at those points in history when whiteness had perfected the exploitation of non-white bodies within those groups before turning around, calling such exploitation uncivilized and pointing out how it still happens “in Africa.” 

If we cannot call this the hypocrisy that it is, it is because the greatest gift whiteness afforded its children was a clear conscience through a liberal education and upbringing; as individuals, they never have and never would have done what some of their ancestors and other white people have done. It is not polite to ask how this gift of moral white whiteness was bought because those kinds of conversations have separated white abolitionist from white church, white integrationist from white separatist, white father from white son and white brother from white brother. So it is that the denial of even whiteness as a construct has this alibi: white people have not agreed on what to do with the other races for long enough, they argue, that they should not even be viewed as a group.

This is why the Western emergence of the individual is viewed with suspicion by other people-groups: white people have not, as a group, admitted that they could only navel-gaze upon and develop the inviolable individual with his human rights (i.e. humanism) while slaves of colour were doing all the manual labour out of sight in those distant colonies. When I talk of human rights to black people, I am speaking in the language of the Oppressor who has denied that he is such.

When today individuals in the West deny the bulk and consequences of past group exploitation perpetrated by ancestral groups from which they have unhinged with a change of mind but not a questioning or disinheritance of privilege, they can’t expect to be taken seriously when they advocate for human (women’s and gay) rights. The about-turn is not accepted at face value by African and Asian countries: it is regarded as another step in another conspiracy to destabilize non-western people-groups and tribes, or at the least dictate a new ethic to them in the implementation of a moral neo-colonialism.

White privilege is the freedom to deny that constructs exist because once you have the resources and mobility to opt in and out of the group, its guilts and its prejudices, you have no reason to admit that constructs have been constructed, let alone that you have unduly benefited from them. White privilege is the gift of not knowing about white privilege whilst benefiting from it.

A few months ago I told leaders at the church I was affiliated with that I was going to come out and get vocal about homophobia. The pastors graciously offered to formulate a church stance in relation to my decision, if I could convince them theologically that embracing openly gay people and offering them the sacrament of marriage was the right thing to do. In the end, I think what stopped them from accepting the scriptural hypothesis I offered them was who they were: as a group of white individuals, they were unwitting deniers of constructs even while they used their more sanitized permutations to hold their group together.

While they alleviate the effects of practical suffering, I have not heard them preach consistently, cohesively and deeply from a single lexicon be it that of feminism or Calvinism or Queer Theory or Arminianism. I believe they are scared to admit this world of invisible ideas exists and they have to pick one and all its ramifications; they deny the existence of invisible ideas even as they preach an invisible God.

They are sorry for homophobia but cannot denounce (or recognize) church heterosexism as a construct. They do not recognize constructs, at least not in their ugly totality. Their individuality and his innocence from group guilt is too precious a commodity to trade in for the sickening truth of how their individuality was afforded and removed from the constructed world and its connection to slaves that constructed it in the concrete while philosophers were deconstructing it in the abstract, making the world “safe for democracy” and democratic individuals. They suffer from what has been called “white fragility” and I did not have the steel to break it to or for them.

To have white privilege is to be given from birth the tools needed to move through the world without having to reckon with the power of constructs. The final straw was the church’s good-hearted attempt to acclimatize me to a theology of “pure grace” that said that because of Jesus’ atonement for my sins, I was pure in God’s eyes. In not so many words, they said I was as good as straight. But when the blood of Jesus is used not only to redeem white individuals from the guilt of their fathers’ sin (from which individuals still unwittingly benefit today) but also transform gay black individuals with a chip on their shoulder into good-as-straight white-as-snow individuals, then there is no room to discuss the devastation caused by still-existing, persistent constructs, or, for that matter, the price paid for anyone’s ability to remain above the fray. Lambs remain silent as they are sent off for slaughter by the good intentions and white fragility of those entrusted with ministering to the hurt in the world. They put band aids on gunshot wounds. The Atonement they appropriated in their further distancing of the individual from their group’s guilt was also used to sterilize (in every sense) and separate me from my right to speak up about group suffering. There are no groups in Christ because Christianity is a matter of the individual heart.

The white church needs a God who can turn gay people straight even if it’s in their imagination or by legal fiction; such a God supports white Christians’ right to deny the construct and effects of heterosexism, the denial of non-straight bodies and blackness, along with the denial of all constructs and their effects. All I had to do was nod along. I did so while they were watching. And when they weren’t, with more pain than I could explain (but no surprise whatsoever) I turned and left them in the numbing hands of their out-of-touch God. 

I imagine the rise of gay visibility to mean the dwindling of heterosexist white congregations. For once whiteness parted ways with constructs and group accountability; once enslavement and colonialism went out of vogue and colonies had attained liberation, the white male Jesus also lost relevance to his white beneficiaries and pioneers. Christianity once bought colonialists the moral right to annex and enslave; today, it is a lukewarm, toothless faith system that neither denounces the entire package of constructs that allowed it to do this, nor repents to help build a better world based on the destabilization of sexist and racist constructs. Christianity exists now, in part, because the idea of God has been incubated by non-white groups who saved it from the humanistic de-grouping of white individuals. That, or the idea of God has ricocheted between the West and the rest of the world enough times and with enough tweaks to keep him (or her, or it, or them) tenable through one revival after another. But as more black people afford to become individuals, more of them will trash God altogether.

Until then, we have to make-do with “God,” that is, an invisible realm of constructs and indescribably powerful ideas that privileges (straight white male) persons while blinding them to their scope and extent of that privilege. We cannot as yet afford to adopt white atheism in relation to this God: like apartheid police or the boys in blue using black men as target practice, he is still out to get us. Whether we believe in him does not stop him from believing in us.

We cannot afford the luxury of white atheism.

This morning, I saw a post by author Gillian Schutte:

“Just to be clear I am of the opinion that the killing of Cecil the Lion and the killing of Black people is part of the same ‘phallocratic homophobic self-centred resource extraction murderous entitled white male settler bullshit’ syndrome. They do not care about the wild life, the ecosystems, the feminine and black lives. The only women that matter to them are patriarchy-servers contorted into barby bodies and high heels with the sole purpose of patting their phallic egos. The only good black to them is one who can be exploited oppressed bribed monetised deified and eaten. The only appealing land is land with resources that can be raped by them. The only interest in wild life is whether killing a majestic lion will make them feel something akin to being truly alive because they are dead with power. It is a form of sickly ego driven cannibalism and emptiness. They will destroy our world with their voracious vacuous idiocy. The police who do their bidding are there to serve this vampirish brutal class of pac men.

Having said all that why have over 1 million Americans signed a petition for a lion and ignored the deaths of so many fellow citizens. WHY? Because they are part of the same syndrome I have just described in that they willingly serve it. That is the syndrome I will rail against with all my might. They will not have my humanity and none of us should stay silent on the issue of the denigration and devaluation of black lives around the globe.”

I rest my case.

White Jesus v.s. Black South African Liberation Struggle Heroes

White Jesus v.s. Black South African Liberation Struggle Heroes

The genius of racism

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987


White Jesus v.s Brown Jesus

I read a quote by an Asian writer who confessed his preference for white writers over writers of colour because, having had the luxury of time and resources to think about the meaning of life in a universe they had “matured” to seeing as as empty and purposeless, they focused on the human condition in general and existence in the abstract far better than writers of colour.

Black writers, he observed, wrote too often on suffering – because they were more familiar with it than more abstract topics. Their works were rarely disembodied. They were in the trenches of human being, in the mud where black people are still exposed to greater levels of physical danger. Their minds could not afford to soar with those of white writers who had few such worries and could explore the safe and bloodless everything and nothing.

This is similar to a podcast in which Lebogang Mashile spoke about a white gentleman who preferred her work when it discussed suffering in the abstract but not in the black female concrete body. The cerebral, the non-local, the nondescript, he liked; the abruptly bodied and historical, not so much. 

The Asian writer was critiqued by a black commentator for his unconscious absorption of the narrative of whiteness as normality, niche supremacy and the human mind fully realized.

Since reading and hearing these thoughts, I have been dissecting Jesus with much sharper apparatus than I used in my most testing crises (of faith?). I have since figured that there are two Jesuses I feel the need to speak of.

The first is White Jesus, who, despite never having existed, is the most popular artistic subject in human history. If the fastest way to gain control over someone’s will and mind is convincing her that God looks like you and not her, then the whiteness of White Jesus has been a necessary component of every crusader’s and colonialist’s Christology since, I dare say, Constantine. Now, some souls have taken very personally my tendency to name a colour – or rather, the whiteness which has often been presented as the colourless, the norm, the uncoloured human experience – but I didn’t do that: white supremacy did. I’m just taking it at its word when it assumes the normality of whiteness. Please don’t shoot the messenger.

The creation of White Jesus serves to normalize and centralize the straight white male experience while hiding that this has been done from those who are straight, white or male. The more of these three things one is, the less likely one is to know what’s happened and the more offended he will be if you try to make him see that God Incarnate himself has been recruited into the business of making the world safer for him but not others.


White Jesus was created out of a deep insecurity that could not be masked by a thousand worldly achievements. Insecurity is marked by the need to be right. When being right is an end in itself, one’s ideology becomes rigid and that rigidity becomes its own blind spot, erasing any competing interpretation of the same set of facts and scriptures. This is why church history is a tragicomedy of errors punctuated by brief, fleeting moments of beauty and brilliance. It’s also why #TheChurchIsNotListening.

Where we are determines the kind of God that will appear to us. This has less to do with what’s happening “out there” or whether there even is a God than with the lens we’ve developed to interpret life. The realest theophany still has to be critiqued. Was that bush really burning, or was the sun setting behind it just so? No matter. Literal suffering can only be met by a tangible, incarnate God – an Immanuel, a God-With-Us – who rescues from captivity, bondage and slavery. He speaks truth to the Powers-That-Be, often losing his life in the process. His resurrection is the vindication of the underdog and the liberation struggle his death catalyzed. Ideological suffering can only be relieved by a God who props up politics and government. This God looks exactly like the Powers-That-Be because he backs them, and not the little guy getting crucified by them. This God’s resurrection is his fulfilling The Terminator’s last words – “I’ll be back” – and no mistake about it: he is out to terminate someone.

The absence of suffering can either start the search for a transcendent rescuer, a divine saviour (the embodied, incarnate Brown Jesus of tangible bodily suffering) or it can kill the search (atheism) – or it can spark the search for God with the goal, in some instances, of propping up existing privilege and superiority over and the expense of those who do experience bodily suffering. In a word, White Jesus died for the bodily sins of Brown Sinners, the greatest of their sins being the having of bodies, and you get on his side by voting Republican.

Because his inventors needed him to prop up their privilege and ideology more than to come bodily to save them, the creators of White Jesus interpret his words not through his incarnation – his appearance among and identification with the disenfranchised – but through the abstracted, legalistic privilege of the Pharisees. Instead of seeing him as critiquing and being killed by the system for critiquing it, the inventors of White Jesus deny the system existed (because it looks just like them and the Powers-That-Be), preach that he preached against the sins of the embodied, and was resurrected to lord it over the now dead bodies of brown Jesuses and brown people. Oh, and White Jesus did not have a sexuality (well what else could “without sin” possibly mean, dear?) or if he had a sexual nature, held it back for 33 years, being the bloodless God he was.

In other words, White Jesus didn’t go to prostitutes and other outcasts to be with them: he went to them to preach at them. This is a complete reversal of the first-century witness, of course. The historical gospels say Jesus partied with “sinners” to the point that critics described him as a wine-bibber, glutton, demon-possessed, bastard half-breed Samaritan who cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub (aka “the spreader of sodomy upon the earth”). The historical gospels also show Jesus preaching hellfire and damnation at the religious and self-righteous. Go read them for yourself. Because he appears in response to and in solidarity with human need, Brown Jesus’ words on the system are understood as a critique of the system – a critique that gets him killed – while White Jesus’ words are understood as him creating and endorsing the system that now exists.

Here is the supreme difference between White Jesus and Brown Jesus: Brown Jesus comes to save you because you are oppressed and in need and broken: White Jesus comes, tells you he will save you, gives you instructions on how to save yourself and your bodiedness, then watches to see how well you will do it. White Jesus pisses on you but doesn’t have the decency to say it’s raining. He tells you it is all grace but implicitly dumps a pile of works or guilt on you. That’s why more and more people are telling him to go f**k himself.

#TeamWhiteJesus is not necessarily composed of white people but of those who refuse to admit that white privilege is real. Many brown people worship White Jesus because Stockholm Syndrome is real.  

#TeamBrownJesus is not necessarily and exclusively composed of brown-skinned people, but of those who recognize structures of power and privilege that have crushed people of colour, women and members of the LBGT community – basically, anyone who wasn’t as straight, white or male as White Jesus was.

Hashtag that. Discuss that. Call that out. #WhiteJesus is no longer sustainable. Tell me what you think.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987


Technically, The City Press “Sodomy” Headline Was Accurate. Keep Calm And Hear Me Out.

Disclaimer: This blog post will be different from what most readers are used to.  I have to take you back to Sunday School for ten minutes.  Whether you and I believe the stories below is irrelevant.  In view of the rising Christianophobia that’s gaining traction on the internet, the rape of the Northern Cape schoolboy will add fuel to the fire and I would bet good money that some people want that fire to burn out of control.

Imagine the confusion amongst Christians (whom many of us are trying to teach to affirm sexual diversity) when well-intentioned writers like Brad Cibane reinforce the traditional understanding of sodomy as consensual male anal sex, while those of us working towards reconciling the Christian and the LGBTI communities explain the biblical story as detailing an attempted male rape, and therefore, sodomy as male rape.

Because as long as Christians believe that the sin of Sodom was Sodomy as “consensual male sex”, then they will also believe that their God was destroying the cities for having gay sex.  This will inflict irreparable harm on the gay liberation movement.  Whether its champions like it or not, a great number of the people they are speaking to are Christian, and in spite of overwhelming evidence suggesting otherwise, some Christians have read the bible.

That these writers and activists have a different worldview does not give them license to bludgeon their readers with those worldviews as though having decided upfront that the one is “more accurate” than the other.  But that’s not the issue at stake.  I don’t have to be a/theist to agree with many a/theists’ basic understanding of justice.  But if someone with a different worldview makes his case for his preferred path towards justice by trashing my worldview instead of taking the time to find out what we have in common, he doesn’t get me closer to agreeing with him.  He might be impressed with his own syllogisms and what he understands to be the superiority and clarity of his own mind, but he’s alienating me by dismissing the lens through which I interpret reality.  It’s very counter-productive.  South African audiences comprise not only of “enlightened atheists” and “brights”, but also of people from at least one Abrahamic tradition – be it Islam, Judaism or Christianity.  Convincing them to read their holy books differently is tough enough.  Convincing them to throw those books out would be nigh impossible.

Much ink has been spilled about City Press’ choice of words in the initial headline about the schoolboy who was raped by his classmates.  I believers they initially used the word “sodomize”.  Many have correctly pointed out that in South Africa’s legal history, the word “sodomy” referred to prohibited consensual anal sex between two males.  They pointed out that the headline, though possibly an innocent mistake, may have also indicated society’s deep discomfort with what is still considered taboo.  “The word ‘sodomy’ betrays the entrenched homophobia in South Africa.  Sodomy—or male anal penetration—was a common law crime until it was declared unconstitutional in 1998.  Today, the word ‘sodomise’ is derogatory; it refers to consensual male sex,” wrote Brad Cibane.

This is where things fall apart.  There hasn’t been an unbroken transmission of meaning for the word “sodomy” through history.  So whose definition of the word is correct, if each definition is based on slippery matrices of prior opposite (sometimes incorrect) definitions?  This isn’t about semantics: it’s about forecasting the Zeitgeist that’s being birthed before us.

Through their many travels from Europe to Africa, laws against Sodomy have presupposed that the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah tells of an invitation to consensual male anal sex by the inhabitants of a city that had gay orgies night after night.  But the story is about a man whose uncle had a feud with the king of the city (Genesis 14) he lived in.  His name was Lot; his uncle was Abra(ha)m, and the city was Sodom.  One evening, Lot took it upon himself to shelter two traveling strangers.  It was Bedouin custom to extend hospitality in this manner.

Feeling that this man was testing the tolerance of the city-dwellers, the men of Sodom gathered around his house and demanded that he bring out his guests so that they could “know them” or, denuded of biblical euphemisms, “fuck them up”.  Panicked, Lot offered his virgin daughters instead but this gesture only made the hostile mob even more aggressive.  He didn’t realize it, but his repulsion at the crime they wanted to perpetrate played right into their plot to get him to say something bossy, something that made it sound like he thought he was in charge of them and could tell them what to do or not do.  They’d been looking for an opportunity for payback, and in a five-minute kangaroo court at his doorstep, they’d accused him of “coming here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the prince!”  Their sentence?  “We will do worse with you than with them!”

Then as though things were not chaotic enough, all hell broke loose.  Or was it heaven?   Something like history’s first stun grenade was detonated: a blinding and disorienting light paralyzed the mob.  It turned out the two strangers were angels who’d infiltrated Sodom to investigate a report or an “outcry” that had “risen to heaven” against the city.  As numerous Jewish commentaries and biblical passages (Ezekiel 16:49) reveal, the Sodomites were greedy and indifferent to the plight of the poor and oppressed.  They were territorial and violent.  They committed war crimes and were given to robbing and raping passers-by for sport.  Lot’s uncle had barely got his people and relatives out of Sodom alive during the war that had led to the feud.

One legend says a little girl offered a piece of bread to an outcast, for which the people of Sodom tortured and executed her.  She cried aloud and it was that particular cry that made God say, “Okay, now, this is ridiculous” and start planning for the overthrowing of the Jordanian plain and all the cities that had been infected with its violence.  By the time the angels entered Sodom that evening, God had already revealed his decision to incinerate the city (Gen 18:17).  The angels only went in to run a final “trial” on its inhabitants, the dismal result of which was Sodom’s third strike.  The city was doomed.

The same angels were sent also to find righteous people they could rescue or on whose behalf the city could be spared.  But overall, they were sent to condemn a city-state whose wanton crimes against humanity had moved even God to intervene in a cataclysmic display of Old Testament justice that stood as a monumental warning to civilizations for centuries to come.

In its original context, then, the word “sodomy” never was about consensual same-sex couplings.  It was about an instance of attempted male rape by the inhabitants of a city called Sodom.  Commentators, preachers, translators, theologians, bible scholars, historians and in turn, law-makers down the millennia have gotten this wrong, sticking whatever definitions suited the prejudices of their day on the word.  Sodomy has been redefined and mistaken for oral sex, mastubation, Onanism (named after a kinky bastard in Genesis who wanted to do his brother’s widow as custom allowed, but didn’t want to impregnate her as the same custom required) and a whole host of really repressed meanings by people with more hang-ups and neuroses than we can keep track of.

Cibane goes on to report that “the word (‘sodomy’) maligns an acceptable, legally-protected sexual practice, thus marginalising a minority group.  Sodomy—which is reference to ‘unnatural sexual relations’, such as those imputed to the inhabitants of Biblical Sodom—reinforced biblical stereotypes about same-sex relationships”.

But nowhere does the bible impute “unnatural sexual relations” to the people of Sodom, though in other discourses the bible speaks of “unnatural sexual relations” among – guess who? – the Greeks.  But that’s in one of Paul’s rhetorical diatribes about the redundancy of the Mosaic Law.  His sermon is written, in part, to unify the non-Jewish Greco-Roman believers with Jewish-Christian converts on the fundamentals of the Christian faith, fundamentals which needed clarification in what was otherwise a cultural (and sexual) melting pot.  Whether those passages were meant to be taken at face-value or not is left, quite deliberately, open to interpretation.  The reader is warned to tread carefully (Romans 2:1).  Other biblical passages cancel others out by a change of well-marked ages (“aeons” or “eons”) and changes in the Law (Hebrews 7:2).

The closest the bible comes to imputing “unnatural sexual relations” to the people of Sodom is in the Epistle of Jude where it speaks about how the people of Sodom went after “sarkos heteras”, or “strange”, “other flesh”.  This could easily be a reference to how they attempted to rape the two strangers, who weren’t human.  It could just as easily be a reference to Sodom’s cultic rites.  Sleeping with representatives of “other” deities is a practice as old as the hills in henotheistic and polytheistic worlds.

To read the bible as suggesting that the people of Sodom were judged for homosexual relations, one has to first find an example of a consensual homosexual relation in Sodom for which they could be judged.  The bible as such gives no such example.  Law-makers have been reading it into Genesis 19 to feed their own heteropatriarchal fears and prejudices.  Today’s Christianophobes join their ranks.

The danger with believing that there are “biblical stereotypes about same-sex relationships” is that people will think that the bible has a single narrative on same-sex relations when there’s a wealth of evidence to the contrary.  The bible has a messy, nuanced and highly contextual body of teachings and stories about sex and sexuality.  That’s why there’s a shift in contemporary Christianity towards the recognition and celebration of same-sex love relationships.

One of the outcomes of that shift is that the word “sodomy” will be restored to its biblical meaning of “male anal rape”.  Leviticus 18 will be read together with Leviticus 15 and Romans 3, and many other things will fall into place.  Religion will be disarmed.  I’m glad that cultural Christianity is in decline, but I’d prefer for worldviews to die natural deaths.  We cannot afford for people to affirm the traditional legal understanding of sodomy.

But if the one-story view of Christianity prevails, it’s going to be lumped together with how there’s a monolithic Christianity that is conservative, homophobic and a menace to twenty-first century progress.  That is not a natural death: it’s death by slander.

I submit that because it will keep their lives and research simple, some writers and intellectuals want exactly the negative perception to win out.  It’s convenient.  It’s expedient.  It suits the story they want to tell about civilization today.  I don’t think Brad Cibane is one of those writers but he has unwittingly handed them ammunition.

If this Christianophobic view does win out, though, then the thing that would have failed to survive into the twenty-first century wouldn’t just have been Christianity.  It would have been the search for objective truth, of which many of these writers say they are champions.

Not only is this a tad hypocritical, I find it saddening.

Brad Cibane’s piece

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